Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, February 17, 2019

February 17, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 6:17-26

There is a message in the gospel of Luke that cannot be avoided.
Luke flipped things around, defying societal expectations.
Society might expect the rich to be blessed, because of their riches.
Society might expect those who are full to consider themselves blest, because their stomachs are not empty, they have walked away satisfied.
Society might expect those who are laughing to consider their laughter a blessing. Laughter exhibits joy. Joy is good.
Society might expect those who are spoken well of to be proud of themselves. Clearly, others respect them.

Flipping all of those expectations, Luke wrote that Jesus told his listeners woe to the rich, Jesus said woe to the full, Jesus said woe to the laughing people, Jesus said woe to those who were spoken well of… words that were and are completely unexpected.
According to Luke Jesus said it was the hungry who were blessed; According to Luke Jesus said it was those crying who would laugh.
According to Luke Jesus said people who were hated, people who were reviled, people who were excluded, people who were defamed (all in Jesus’ name) would be blessed.

Blessed, in this sense, is best understood as “oh, how fortunate for them” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 143).
According to Luke Jesus said those who suffered, for a variety of reasons, would experience God’s good fortune.

None of this makes sense.
Until we understand Luke’s point.

Luke’s point was that God’s reign is different than the reign of any other sovereign ruler. God, as ruler of the world, demands justice. God, as ruler of the world, demands peace. God, as ruler of the world, demands that there be no more oppression, that there be no more hunger, God demands that there be no more suffering.

According to Luke, as Jesus ushered in the reign of God Jesus brought blessing to those who suffered.
Jesus’ presence was their good fortune.

Jesus’ presence IS their good fortune.
Jesus continues to call us to witness to his love in the world, declaring good fortune to those who suffer.
Knowing we are loved by Jesus it follows, if we love Jesus we will love the world, in particular serving those who suffer. And our service will bring good fortune to them.

St. Clare of Assisi was a bold woman who wrote “We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God’s compassionate love for others.” (“Clare of Assisi” at AZQuotes.com).

If we are rich, becoming vessels of God’s compassionate love means we share our wealth. If our stomachs are full, becoming vessels of God’s compassionate love means we share our food. If we are laughing, becoming vessels of God’s compassionate love means we share our joy with others. If we are spoken well of, becoming vessels of God’s compassionate love means using the power of our reputations, or our places in society, to lift up those who suffer.

St Teresa of Avila wrote boldly: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks out his compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us…” (“Teresa of Avila” at AZQuotes.com).

This morning we honor the bold women in history, the bold women in our lives who have and who are living Christ’s love, boldly. We are grateful for the courage and the strength these women have had and do have.

But the truth is, God’s call is for all of us, regardless of our gender identity, to serve God boldly.

We must not be silent.
We must shout God’s love, we must proclaim God’s redemptive power to all the world.

St. Catherine of Siena wrote “We’ve had enough of exhortations to be silent!”
(I think Catherine was speaking about the experience of women. But, her words are important for all of us who are people of faith to hear because we all have a tendency to be silent about our faith….)
Catherine said “Cry out with a hundred tongues. I see that the world is rotten because of silence.”  (“St. Catherine of Siena” at AZQuotes.com).

Let’s all of us boldly proclaim God’s love to every person.
Let’s proclaim God’s blessings to the hungry.
Let’s proclaim God’s blessings to those who mourn.
Let’s proclaim God’s blessings to those who are reviled, or excluded, or defamed.
God’s good fortune is theirs.

Thanks be to God that God loves the world.
Amen.

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday, February 3, 2019

February 3, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 4:21-30

Today we complete a story begun last week: the story of Jesus returning to his home synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus read scripture to the people gathered in the synagogue; he read a prophecy from the book of Isaiah that he then proclaimed he was the fulfillment of. He proclaimed he was the Messiah. Jesus told his listeners: The Spirit of the Lord is upon ME. I have been anointed to bring good news to the poor. I have been sent to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. I have been sent to let the oppressed go free. I have been sent to proclaim that this is the time—this is the moment—of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:19-19)

The people who knew Jesus best, the people who knew him when he was growing up, who knew his mother and his father and the rest of the family—their first response was to wonder: Isn’t that Joseph’s son? (Luke 4:22).

It is like they are asking: who would have thought? Who would have thought Joseph’s son could say or do such things? Who would have thought a hometown kid like him would become a star? It was amazing! In fact, Luke wrote: they were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (Luke 4:22).

Then it appears that Jesus heard them saying that they wanted him to do for them everything he had done in other places. It appears he believed they were a little bit miffed that he didn’t do great things for them, first. After all, they were his people. He was their Son. He ought to be taking care of them, healing them, teaching them. Maybe he should only take care of them, only heal them, only teach them.

The reading is clear, Jesus knew he was sent to the world for all the world, not just for his own people—not just for his own “kind”. Which is why he referenced Elijah and Elisha. They were both prophets who, as the Nazarenes would have known, assisted foreigners.

This is the point in the story where things got ugly. When Jesus pointed out that his ministry was not going to be just for his own people, “all in the synagogue were filled with rage” (Luke 4:28).
The Nazarenes were angry enough to want to kill Jesus.

Perhaps you know what it is like, when you have something really good, maybe even great, and you want to keep it for yourself. I do that at home sometimes when Jeanne buys me my favorite candy. I hide it. I don’t want to share it. I get angry if she eats any of it, even just one piece.

Jesus and what he brought to the world—he is a lot more important than candy. There are people who want to keep his message of love, they want to keep his words of grace, they want to keep his promise of eternal life—they want to keep Jesus for themselves. Or maybe they want to keep him for the people who are just like them.

Jesus knew he could not be kept!

Jesus cannot be kept! We cannot limit who we share Jesus with!
We cannot hoard his grace. We cannot tuck Jesus away in a secret place, stingily reveling in what he has done for us.

We need to share Jesus with the world!
We need to share the good news of his love—with the world!We need to lavish his grace on others—both telling them about his grace-full acceptance of us all and living that grace in our own relationships. Being forgiving. Being welcoming.
We need to openly declare the promises Jesus has made to the world. We need to bring hope even as we are hope-full.

The Reverend Barbara Lundblad once said that we humans tend to want to “wrap religion around us like a homemade quilt” (Homilies for the Christian People, p. 403-406 as quoted in Sundays and Seasons for Epiphany 4 2019). We want to snuggle into our religion and make ourselves comfortable. We don’t allow much room for others when we do that, do we?

Jesus has a way of wiggling out of our selfish embrace.
He comes to us and to others.
In so many ways, he comes to us.
Jesus comes for us.
And for the world.
Wanting to save us all.

Thanks be to God for God’s infinite generosity.
Amen.

Third Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 27, 2019

January 27, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 4:14-21

Today’s gospel is a tough one to work with for a couple of reasons.
First, we are back in the gospel of Luke, having used a reading from the gospel of John last week. Luke and John had different ways of telling the story of the life and ministry of Jesus. Their themes don’t always match. So we move from John’s theme of abundance and transformation (which we heard last week) to Luke’s theme of liberty—specifically liberty for the poor and the oppressed.

Second, today we are only looking at half of a story. The schedule of readings requires that we look at the first half of the story this week, the other half next week. These two halves are radically different. This week we hear the good news part of the story. Next week we hear the more difficult news. I think it is a bit misleading to only talk about the good news this week. But that’s what we have been assigned.

Third, after a few weeks of focusing on Jesus’ family—the ins and outs of his relationships with Mary and with Joseph and with God, his Abba—this week we broaden our view of “family” to include the community he was raised in.

Jesus had been traveling around Galilee, teaching in synagogues. All who heard him “praised him” (Luke 15). His traveling took him to the synagogue in Nazareth.

I have returned to my home congregation to preach, in Rockford, IL. It has been exciting, to stand in the pulpit I saw other preachers stand in, to preach from the pulpit I pretended to preach from when I was a child and I couldn’t see over the top. I always feel a sense of anticipation, both for me and for the congregation. I sense their pride. I fear I will disappoint them.

Without any obvious hesitation on his part, Jesus walked forward in his home congregation and he took the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. It was his choice to do so. It was his choice to walk forward; it was his choice to read, and his choice of what he was going to read.

He chose Isaiah—specifically the passage in Isaiah where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Boom!
Drop the mic!

The Hebrew people had been waiting for centuries for the Messiah.
The Hebrew people had been waiting, they had been longing for the Messiah to come.
And now! Now!
Jesus, the kid who grew up in the synagogue, Mary’s and Joseph’s son, read the text from Isaiah making it clear to all who heard it that he was the one. He made it clear he was the fulfillment of their waiting and their longing.

Just to make sure they didn’t miss his point, after rolling up the scroll he sat down (in the posture of a teacher) and told them:

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

Imagine if Rayone had stood before us this morning and read this text and said to us “It’s me! I’m the one you have been waiting for!”

Or if one of our acolytes grabbed the mic and told us he or she is Jesus, returning to the world.

What does this reading mean to us, here and now?
Today’s part of our two-part story reminds us of the humanity of Jesus.
In worship we focus in his divinity—Jesus as our Savior, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.
We worship Jesus, who died for us and then rose, victorious. We praise Jesus, our Sovereign God.

Yet there Jesus stood, the child of a congregation, proclaiming to his hometown that he was the fulfillment of scripture. We must never forget his humanity.

Likewise, we must never forget Jesus’ call: Jesus’ call to bring good news to the poor; Jesus’ call to free those who were held captive; Jesus’ call to give sight to the blind; Jesus’ call to let the oppressed go free; Jesus’ call to proclaim that that moment was THE moment.
The Messiah had come.

Jesus’ call is now our call. We are called to bring good news to those living in poverty. We are called to free those who are captive to sin, captive to those things that bind them, making them unable to receive the love God provides. We are called to give sight to those who cannot see God’s love living in the world, who cannot see God’s love is living in their lives, who cannot see God’s love is living in their hearts. We are called to proclaim the freedom that comes when one knows the truth of God’s liberating power.
We are called to remind every person that this is the moment. We are called to proclaim that Jesus lives in the world now, here, with us.
We are called to proclaim that God Spirit moves in the world now, here and everywhere, giving people strength and hope.

That’s what this first half of the story of Jesus returning to Nazareth tells us.
Next week we hear the rest of the story.

Until then… Amen.

Second Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 20, 2019

January 20, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

John 2:1-11

I’m going to confess, it has been fun preaching the past few weeks! Our gospel readings have focused on Jesus and his relationship with his parents—particularly his relationship with Mary. Today we find the two of them together again. Their interactions are almost comical! Yet they illustrate a couple of important points.

The scene is set. Mary and Jesus are attending a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

I wonder—how many single young men attend weddings with their mothers?
Did Jesus and Mary go to the wedding together or did they meet there? We know the disciples were also invited and attended. Did they all travel to the wedding together?

I’m thinking it was a big wedding. Six jars of water turned into wine—(as I said in my young peoples’ message) one scholar estimated six jars of water would be about 175 gallons of wine (Sundays and Seasons, Epiphany 2). Either it was a large wedding or people were drinking a lot!

Anyway—when the wine ran out Mary said to Jesus “They have no wine” (John 2:3). Not “Son, they seem to have run out of wine. Can you do anything about that?” Or, “Jesus, they ran out of wine. You’re the miracle man—I know you can help. Do something!”
Just four words: they have no wine.

And then, son that he was he said “Woman. What concern is that to you and me? My hour has not come” (John 2:4). One commentary I read on this said we might expect to hear Mary say “Don’t use that tone with me, young man” (Sundays and Seasons). Another scholar wrote “Jesus’ words to his mother… sound harsh to the modern ear, but they are neither rude nor hostile. Jesus frequently addresses women with the greeting “Woman.” The use of that form of address to speak to one’s own mother is unusual, however” (The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. -9, p. 536). The scholar then suggests Jesus might have been saying “Why is this my concern?” (TNIB, p. 537). Jesus might as well have been shrugging, saying “So…?”

Then Mary’s response was a classic mom-response: she ignored Jesus! Mary turned to the servants and told them “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

Mary knew. Mary knew Jesus was going to do something, either because it was what Jesus knew Mary expected, or because it was what Jesus desired to do. Either way, Mary knew Jesus would solve the problem. She was confident!

And the problem! The problem is so interesting! They didn’t have enough wine at a wedding!
This was the first miracle Jesus performed in the gospel of John! He gave a wedding party wine!
He didn’t heal someone. He didn’t raise someone from the dead. He didn’t rid someone of his or her demons. He turned water into wine, making him the favorite guest at every wedding thereafter!

Commentary in the New Interpreter’s Bible says “It is a miracle of abundance, of extravagance, of transformation and new possibilities” (vol. 9 p. 540).

I wonder—
Do we have as much confidence in Jesus as his mother Mary did?
If not, why not?
We know Jesus loves us. We know Jesus loves the world. We know Jesus died for us and for our sins. We know Jesus promises us the gift of eternal life.
And yet—do we believe Jesus provides all of this abundantly, extravagantly—transforming each and every one of us—transforming the world!!!

Do we have such confidence in his promises that we expect to be transformed by Jesus, that we expect there to be new possibilities around every corner, in every instance, because of Jesus? A scholar wrote:

“The extravagance of Jesus’ act, the superabundance of the wine, suggests   the unlimited gifts that Jesus makes available. Jesus’ ministry begins with an extraordinary act of grace, a first glimpse of the ‘greater things’ to come. This story invites the reader to share in the wonder of the miracle, to enter into the joyous celebration made possible by Jesus’ gift” (NIB, vol. 9, p. 540).

This is the God we worship.
This is the God we celebrate: the God whose love is “this big.”
The God who embraces the world!
The God who has the power to transform every person—
The God who has the power to transform every situation—
The god who has the power to transform every moment—
The God who transforms us and our lives with graceful exuberance.

This IS the God we worship.
This IS the God we celebrate.
Thanks be to God, this IS our God. And we ARE God’s people.

Amen!

Baptism of Our Lord – Sunday, January 13, 2019

January 14, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke   3:15-17, 21-22

Have you ever wondered how much God loved Jesus?
As I thought about it I thought about conversations I’ve had with young children in my family. I ask “How much do I love you?” And then I answer my own question: “I love you TTHHIISSS much.” [Extending arms wide]

How much did or does God love Jesus?
Ballpark estimate: TTTHHHIIISSS much.

We can only estimate, because we cannot quantify God’s love. We cannot put God’s love in a box or in a measuring bowl or lay a ruler alongside of it and say: Yep. There’s this much love.
God’s love is infinite. God’s love is way beyond measure.

And yet the story of the Baptism of Jesus gives us a clue. Here, in this story, God speaks to Jesus. Here, in this story, God identifies Jesus as God’s Son.

Throughout scripture Jesus identified God as his “Father.”
There are other words for God in scripture: Yahweh, El Shaddai, El Elyon, El Olam, El Bethel, El Roi, El Berith, El Elohe-Israel, Elohim, Eloah, Adon, King, Judge, Shepherd, the Living God, The First and the Last, The Ancient of Days (“God, names of” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, volume 2, p. 408).

In contrast, Jesus kept it pretty simply. Jesus knew God as his Father. Jesus knew God as Abba, which means Daddy. Remember? We heard the story of his knowledge of God two weeks ago, when we heard the story of him as a twelve year old in the temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus asked his mother “Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) Jesus was telling Mary he knew who God was, and who he was to God.

This week, we hear God describe God’s relationship with Jesus.
You are my Son, the Beloved…” (Luke 3:22).
Keep in mind, the way this story is written, we cannot know if anyone other than Jesus heard God speak those words. Perhaps no one did. Clearly God addressed Jesus “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” But, if only Jesus heard those words spoken by God, he told somebody about the experience. Because we now have those words recorded by Luke. God told Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Many of you were here last Sunday. You know most of my family was here in worship, including my parents. Later on in the afternoon, after my parents had arrived back home, I talked to them on the phone. My father told me how much he enjoyed worshipping with us. And he talked to me about my sermon. He said “I wish more of us thought the way you think.” Reading between the lines, he was saying: with you I am well pleased (or at least with my thoughts, in that moment, last Sunday…)
Who doesn’t need to hear words like that spoken, especially by a parental-figure; by someone who takes ownership of us; by someone who says “You are mine.” “I wish more of us thought the way you think.” “With you I am well pleased.”

What makes the meaning of this story so accessible to us is the fact that, like Jesus, we have been baptized. Like Jesus, when we were baptized God spoke to us.
God told us “You are mine” as water washed over us; God told us “You are mine” as we were marked with the cross of Christ forever.
No matter who we have been, no matter who we are, no matter who we will be—we are always God’s beloved children.
No matter what we have done, no matter what we do, no matter what we will be doing—we are always God’s beloved children.
Always and forever.
Nobody can ever take this away from us. We are God’s beloved children.

“When Martin Luther felt discouraged or afraid, he’d often splash water on himself and declare, “But I am baptized!”” (“Remembering Baptism—Living Wet” by Joan Huyser-Honig found at https://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/remembering-baptism-living-wet/).

But I am baptized!
Say that with me: “But I am Baptized!”
If you aren’t, talk to me. God wants to make you God’s own.

So—how much did God love Jesus?
TTTHHHIIISSS much!
How much does God love you?
TTTHHHIIISSS much!

Always and forever.
You are beloved.
Amen.

Epiphany – Sunday, January 6, 2019

January 6, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Matthew 2:1-12

Were these guys wise men or kings? Were they astronomers? Were they magi? Were there three of them? Or twenty? Or somewhere in between? Were they all men? Could women have been traveling with them?

Tradition tells us one thing, scripture tells us another.

Tradition tells us they there were kings traveling.
But… not really. According to scripture, they were “magi” which can be translated “wise men,” “astrologers,” or as “magicians” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 8, p. 140). “Magi” does not translate to be king.

They were traveling from East to West. We don’t know where, exactly they came from. Most historians assume they were pagans—meaning they were Gentiles, not Jews. This is an important point. This tells us that the good news of Jesus Christ speaks to all people of the world, not just those who were God’s Chosen.

How many were there?
We don’t know. Tradition says there were three, but that is only because three gifts were given. There could have been more—probably were. People didn’t travel alone, they traveled in large groups. With family and servants and household members. The gifts the Magi gave were expensive, signifying the economic status of the magi, which in turn signifies they would not have been traveling alone. They would have been traveling with their “people.”

What is most interesting is the purpose of their travels.
The magi saw in the stars, particularly in the presence of one star, that a king had been born. They wished to “pay him homage” (Matt. 2:2).

Before I get to that point, allow me to make another.
The magi visited King Herod in Jerusalem prior to visiting Jesus. As I read, they told Herod a child had been born “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2).
Don’t forget, Herod was king. And he was not Jewish, which deeply upset the people of Jerusalem. Herod the Great was an “Idumean…backed by Rome” (TNIB vol. 8, p. 142). He became a king “by military conquest” (TNIB, vol. 8, p. 142). Folks “resented his rule” (TNIB, vol. 8, p. 142).

In our reading, King Herod was a contrast to the Magi. Although they were all Gentiles, the Magi followed the star to pay homage to a king who was not theirs. King Herod could only feel the threat of this new king, a threat to his own power.

Which takes us back to our most interesting point:
One scholar wrote “The magi are Gentiles in the extreme, characters who could not be more remote from the Jewish citizens of Jerusalem in heritage and worldview. Even at the beginning of Jesus’ life, then, we see the dividing walls between races and cultures breaking down” (TNIB, vol. 8, p. 145).

In the year 2019, what if we reclaim that reality? What if our new year’s resolution would be to reclaim the fact that Jesus came to the world to unite the world rather than to divide it? What if, in 2019 we embrace the reality of the love of Jesus, and let that reality live as it was meant to live, knowing the reason Jesus came to the world was because God so loved THE WORLD? (John 3:16)? God didn’t send Jesus to the world to save a small group of select people. God sent Jesus to the world to save the world!

As our gospel story illustrates, God’s love had the power to transform the hearts and minds of pagan magi… who followed a star to pay homage to Jesus—they worshipped Jesus!

Knowing this, who doubts the reality that God’s love has the power to transform the hearts and minds of all of us, even when we think differently, even when what we value (which might be the same) takes us to different places philosophically or politically?
There are so many things we humans have created in this world, intentionally creating barriers between ourselves and other people. This is not God’s desire.

 We divide ourselves by race. We divide ourselves by belief. We divide ourselves by nationality. We divide ourselves by how much money we have or how much money we don’t have. We divide ourselves by our politics. We divide ourselves by our abilities. We divide ourselves with labels and with colors and with dollar bills…

 This is not God’s desire.

 Why else would God have “unobtrusively and ambiguously behind the scenes” (TNIB, vol. 8, p. 143) stopped a star in the sky in order to let a group of pagan magi follow it to the newborn King?
Stars don’t rotate. But the earth does, giving the appearance that stars do. This one stayed in the magi’s line of vision for as long as it took for them to travel to Bethlehem to find Jesus.  

God led the magi to Jesus even as God leads us. God leads us to Jesus! Because God loves us.
God loves the world. God desires that the world know God’s love. Always and forever.
Amen.

First Sunday of Christmas – Sunday, December 30, 2018

December 30, 2018  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 2:41-52

The first words Jesus speaks in the gospel of Luke are these:

“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

He was speaking to his mother, Mary. She and Joseph had been looking for him for three days. Three days!

Joseph and Mary were traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover with their 12 year old son. The Passover festival would have been an enormous gathering of Hebrew people, perhaps as many as 100,000 (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible vol. 3, p. 664), all there to celebrate one of the most important events from the history of the people of Israel.
The story goes, when the Hebrew people were held captive in Egypt as slaves, Moses was sent by God to free them. God visited plagues upon the Egyptians, trying to convince them to free the Hebrews. Here’s the story of the final plague:

Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharoah who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock… (Exodus 11:4- 5).
Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb of each household… [Then] the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it (Exodus 12: 3, 6b-7).
The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you (Exodus 12:13).

Passover celebrated God’s passing over.
Passover celebrated Israel’s freedom.

When Mary and Joseph and Jesus joined thousands of other people celebrating Passover, the event was celebrated at the temple, where lambs were sacrificed and meals were eaten by entire families gathered together. Mary and Joseph and Jesus would have been with Joseph’s family. And there would have been a lot of them. It wouldn’t have been surprising that, when it was time to leave, they would have all traveled home together, perhaps with even more people from other families. If Jesus hadn’t been with Joseph and Mary while traveling, they probably would have assumed he was somewhere else in the group, with the rest of the family.

Then they discovered he wasn’t with them. He was lost.
That’s when the panic set in.
Mary and Joseph searched among their family. Mary and Joseph searched among their friends. Mary and Joseph traveled back to Jerusalem, looking for Jesus. Finally, finally they found him “sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions” (Luke 2:46).

When they found Jesus Mary said “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (Luke 2:48).

And he said “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).

Jesus was Mary’s firstborn. Jesus was raised as Joseph’s firstborn. Jesus was God’s “only Son, our Lord” (Apostle’s Creed). At the age of 12 Jesus knew who he was, and where he needed to be.

Passover was a family holiday. Luke makes no mistake when he places the story of Jesus being found in the Temple in the context of Passover. Luke is telling us, there is family, and then there is family.
We have our earthly families, those who claim us or who we have claimed who we know as ours.
And then we have our family—those here in this place and those around the world who join us as brothers and sisters in Christ. Through baptism God claimed us—God continues to claim us, as God’s own. God protects us. God saves us. God frees us—just as God claimed, protected, saved, and freed the Israelites.

Jesus knew—at the age of 12 he knew—God was his Father.

We believe in “God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth” (Apostle’s Creed).
We know God as our divine parent; we know God as the one who loves and frees us.

Although we are never lost to God, certainly we might at times feel that we are.
When we have those feelings of being lost, of being alone, of wandering in our own wilderness of pain or confusion or grief or despair—
I encourage you to consider Mary and Joseph’s search for their son. God might always know where we are, but there are others who are always searching.

You are never alone.
You are loved and embraced by God—and by your family of faith.

You have a home here—in this place. In God’s house. You have a family here.
You are always welcome. Each and every one of you will always belong to us.

Amen.

Christmas Day – Tuesday, December 25, 2018

December 25, 2018  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 2:8-20

 

I found a great quote as I was planning this service—one I have been pondering… 

The events of Jesus’ life, and his own divine powers, teach those who can learn that he is true God, and his sufferings openly proclaim him true [hu]man. For if he was not flesh, for what reason did Mary bring him forth? And if he was not God, whom then did Gabriel call Lord? If he was not flesh, who then lay in the manger? If he was not God, to whom did the angels coming on earth give glory? If he was not [hu]man, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes? If he was not God, whom then did the shepherds adore? If he was not a man, who cried out “My God, why have you forsaken me”? And if he was not God, who then said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”? …If he were not both God and human, then is our salvation a false thing. 

Ephraem

[Ephraem, in Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, trans. and ed. F.L. Toal (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1958), I, 35-36 as quoted in Sundays and Sermons “The Nativity of Our Lord 2018]

When it is Christmas (as it is today) we tend to emphasize the humanity of Jesus, kind-of forgetting his divinity. We re-member the conditions of his birth, the lowliness of being born in a stable. In particular, the gospel of Luke presents us with images of poverty as Luke tells the story:

  • There was a woman giving birth in a place where animals usually stay.
  • There was a baby who was wrapped in nothing more than strips of cloth.
  • Shepherds were the first to be told (by angels) that “a savior” “the Messiah” (Luke 2:11) had been born. The shepherds “went with haste” (Luke 2:16) to go visit the child. And so his first visitors were religiously unclean, straight-from-the-field fellows. Probably dirty. Probably smelly. As was the stable—probably.

This was the Messiah. The fulfillment of scripture. The satisfaction of centuries of hope. The new ruler of God’s Chosen people. God incarnate. Savior of the World.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those shepherds.
Why them?
Why were they the ones to hear the good news of Christ’s birth?
They were migrant workers. They lived itinerant lives, moving with their sheep from field to field.
Luke is the only one who tells the story this way—who includes the angels singing to the shepherds.
Why?

Luke has a clear agenda in his gospel. As one scholar wrote, “God’s reign is spilling over the boundaries set by the powerful people of the world and into the margins” (Sundays and Seasons, The Nativity of Our Lord 2018). The same scholar said “God is found in the hidden, the neglected, the immodest places of the world.”

And this is our God.

Imagine if you were one of those shepherds. Imagine if you stood there, in the darkness of the night. Imagine if “an angel of the Lord” suddenly “stood before” you. Imagine if “the glory of the Lord” shined around you.
Wouldn’t you be, as the shepherds were, terrified?
But then the angel said to you “Don’t be afraid” and the angel told you wonderful things were about to happen! The angel told you “I bring good news of great joy!”
And then—and then—
A “multitude of the heavenly host” (sometimes translated the heavenly “army”) appeared with the angel and sang! Filling the sky they sang “glory to God!”
Glory to God! 

Our God is an awesome God!
Our God—born in a manger.

Imagine going, as the shepherds did, to visit this new baby. Imagine knowing the baby, the little child was Christ the king. The Messiah.
Imagine! 

“Our world interrupted—brings us all out of the margins into the center of life” (Sundays and Seasons The Nativity of Our Lord 2018). 

Christ is there. At the center of life. In the world. Changing the world forever.

Christ is here. At the center of our lives. In our hearts. Guiding all that we do. Defining all that we are.

Christ was there. Christ is here.
Christ was born.
Christ lives.
We celebrate his birth and his life and all that he brought to the world, forever and ever.
Amen.

Christmas Eve – Monday, December 24, 2018, 11pm

December 24, 2018  
Filed under Sermons

John 1:1-14

We were standing in total, complete darkness.
Our guide had just turned off the only light—a single light bulb suspended from the ceiling.
We were crowded into a small space, maybe ¼ the size of this chapel. There were 20 or so of us standing. In the dark.

It was the root cellar of a house in Memphis, Tennessee.
The house was built by Jacob Burkle, a white man who operated the stockyards in Memphis. He began harboring runaway slaves in his cellar around 1855, continuing to shelter them until the abolition of slavery. His was one house of many that constituted the Underground Railroad (slavehavenmemphis.com).

As I stood in the darkness I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the people fleeing slavery, what it must have been like to hide in the dark, to move from place to place under cover of darkness. To fear being seen in the light of day.

In the gospel of John it is written: what has come into being in him [the Word/Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it” (1:4-5).

Darkness is not evil.
During the time of slavery, darkness brought cover, darkness brought safety, darkness led to freedom. It was the light that was feared.
Imagine hiding in a dark cellar—and someone turning on a light. Back then, it would have been someone lighting a candle or a lantern. Imagine the panic that would have ensued. Or, if not panic, imagine the deflating, deafening feeling of defeat.

We use the language of light and dark loosely in our Christian tradition.
I’d like to reclaim both.

Darkness is not evil. What happens in the dark can be. Just as light is not inherently good. What happens in the light can be.

What happens in the dark can be good. What happens in the light can be evil.

John wrote that Jesus said “I am the light of the world” (8:12).

Born in the dark of night, love came. Freedom came—freedom from sin. Peace came—a peace that passes all human understanding. Joy came – the joy of eternal salvation. All born in the dark of night.

The light of Jesus fills the darkness. The light of Jesus shines, illuminating both good and evil. The light, the warmth of Jesus’ love strengthens what is good, weakens what is evil.

Jesus, the light of the world. Has come. He came in the dark of night.
And he brought salvation.

Amen.

Christmas Eve – Monday, December 24, 2018, 4pm

December 24, 2018  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 2: 1-7

You have all been invited to Bethlehem.

No invitations were sent.
No “event” was planned and posted on Facebook.
You won’t read about it in the newspaper— under the “Community Events” or “Happening Today” sections.

You HAVE all been invited to Bethlehem.
To the place of Jesus’ birth.
To the city of David.

The word “Bethlehem” is most often translated “house of bread.”
I found a few other options for translation.
“Bethlehem” might mean “house of food.”
“Bethlehem” might mean “house of “fighting.”
“Bethlehem” might mean “house of the god Lahamu.” (“Bethlehem” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 394).
Wikipedia suggests Bethlehem was, in the 13th century BC named after the Canaanite God Lehem—who was a fertility God. We all know the value of Wikipedia so I’ll just let that option go…

Which still leaves us with some curiously diverse, options.

Let’s consider the “house of the god Lahamu.” An unexpected option—it is possible the city of Bethlehem was named after this god from 12 century BC Mesopotamian mythology. Lahamu has a twin brother, both of whom were believed to be “the first gods to be born from the chaos that was created by the merging of the water deep beneath the earth and the salt waters” (“Lahmu and Lahamu” Encyclopedia Brittanica online). Although it would be fun to explore modern day Bethlehem with this option in mind—it isn’t really relevant to our holiday celebration. So—we’ll let this one go, too.

Onto a 3rd option: that Bethlehem might mean the “house of fighting.”
This gives me pause.
Because it was established between the 13-12th centuries BC means the city has a lot of history—which includes a history of destruction and revolution.
The city was destroyed in the 2nd century, then rebuilt in the third. Parts were destroyed in the 6th century, then re-built in the 7th. The city’s walls were destroyed in the 13th century, then re-built during the 16th. The city was controlled by the Ottomans, then the British at the end of World War 1. Then the Arab-Israeli War in 1948 gave control to the Jordanians. Bethlehem was captured by Israel during the 6-Day war of 1967. Since 1995 Bethlehem has been administered by the Palestinian Authority. (All info from “Bethlehem” Wikipedia).

“Today, the city is surrounded by two bypass roads for settlers, leaving the inhabitants squeezed between 37 Jewish enclaves, where a quarter of all West Bank settlers, roughly 170,000 live, and the gap between the two roads closed by the 8-metre high Israeli West Bank barrier, which cuts Bethlehem off from its sister city Jerusalem” (“Bethlehem” Wikipedia).

“The house of fighting” may well be apt.
What does it mean that Jesus was born here? Where, since his birth, destruction and wars have raged. Where conflict simmers…

“Bethlehem” may mean the “house of food.” I found another translation that says that, in Arabic, it means “the house of meat” (Wikipedia). As our most common meaning is that it is “the house of bread,” (Interpreter’s Dictionary…) I’m thinking that, when we take the food metaphors and combine them with the “house of fighting” we are left with: (drum roll) a food fight. Who knew I’d be talking about food fights on Christmas Eve.

This does all mean something.
The world Jesus was born into was a world already struggling, already conflicted. His years on this earth brought with them misunderstandings (in Nazareth), disagreements (with church leaders), and political threat (think about Herold, think about Pilate having Jesus hung on a cross for claiming he was the king of the Jews).
The world ever since—has not changed. Conflict. War. Destruction. Conflict. War. Destruction. Distrust. Nuclear warfare. Nuclear threat. Fences. Walls.

And here we sit—with an invitation to Bethlehem.
We’ve been invited to the City of David. Where Christ was born.
This child. This baby. Entered a world of sin. He entered a world of conflict. Jesus came to bring peace. Jesus came; God’s gift of love.

Jesus needed to be born.
Jesus needs to be born again. Born in our hearts to live in and through us.

Meister Eckhart said “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.” (“mothers of god” InterruptingtheSilence.com).

When Jesus is born in us we bring his peace to a world of conflict and war.
When Jesus is born in us we bring his love to a world of hatred and distrust.
When Jesus is born in us we bring his joy to the suffering and to the lost and to those who are struggling in our midst.
When Jesus is born in us we bring his hope to a world so often despairing, to individual people who despair.

We are called to bring Jesus to the “Bethlehems” of our time. We bring Jesus to the houses of bread and meat. We bring Jesus to the house of fighting. We bring Jesus to our cities, to our nation, to our world—radically proclaiming his words of peace and love and reconciliation.

We are called, as followers of Jesus, not to just visit Bethlehem but to transform Bethlehem.

We can do this.
If a child born in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes could bring salvation to the world, what can’t WE do?
What can’t we hope?
What can’t we trust?
“We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord” (Apostles Creed).
And so we come to Bethlehem this evening. We come to the City of David.
And then we go… believing in the power of the Christ Child.
Amen.

Next Page »